Three new polls in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – a trio of states that Donald Trump turned from blue to red and, in so doing, won the White House – paint a very ugly picture for the President. Majorities in all three states disapprove of how he is doing his job – and the number of people who strongly disapprove far outweigh those who strongly approve.
But the most damning number in the polls, which were conducted by NBC and Marist University, is on the question of whether people are “proud” or “embarrassed’ by Trump.
In Michigan and Wisconsin, 64% say they are embarrassed of him while 63% say the same in Pennsylvania. A quarter of respondents in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin said they are “proud” of Trump while 28% said the same in Michigan. (Worth noting: Asking a question like this forces people to choose one of the two feelings; their actual feelings may well be significantly more nuanced.)
Why does this matter?
Because embarrassment is a very, very strong emotion. (Trust me, I am an expert, having spent most of my teens and 20s feeling embarrassed all the time.) Anyone who’s ever been embarrassed, which is all of us, knows just how powerful it can be.
And emotions matter – a lot – in politics. For all of the focus on policy issues in the context of the presidency, much of voter motivation and perception is based on how a politician makes you feel. Barack Obama made people feel hopeful. George W. Bush made people feel at ease. Trump made people feel angry.
That anger – directed at the political establishment, the status quo, the media – is what drove Trump to victory. That’s especially true in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the collapse of the manufacturing economy was centered. The slowness of the economic recovery in the Rust Belt combined with a sense that the American dream was becoming unattainable made Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message incredibly appealing.
But anger is a difficult emotion to sustain – particularly when you get what you want. Trump won. So, what now?
The answer – at least among nearly two-thirds of those polled in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – is embarrassment.
There’s also some evidence that the feeling spreads well beyond those three states. A McClatchy-Marist national poll in March showed that 60% of adults said Trump made them feel embarrassed while 30% said he made them feel proud. Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) of Democrats said Trump made them embarrassed while 64% of independents said the same. One in 5 Republicans said Trump made them embarrassed while 66% said he made them proud.
In a column last month, conservative thinker Kathleen Parker wrote about her feelings on Trump after the President tweeted a video of him clotheslining a body with a CNN logo as its head.
“Embarrassing in the extreme to many Americans who would describe themselves as perpetually appalled …
“… I’ve covered politics off and on for 40 years, including writing a thrice-weekly column for the now-defunct Charleston Evening Post in 1980 leading up to the first Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. Never during that time or since have I ever worried that a president’s behavior would embarrass the country on the world stage. Trump’s most unpardonable offense isn’t his implied threat to members of the fourth estate but his minimizing of the nation’s stature in the world.”
Trump will dismiss this all as fake news covering fake polls. He will note that he won the White House even though all of the so-called smart people in politics – including me! – said he had no chance. Which is his right.
But numbers like this – in which large majorities of people in key swing states call the President of the United States an “embarrassment” – should concern him. We don’t tend to emulate – or, more importantly for Trump, vote for – embarrassments.